Situated in the north-west of Europe and home to the famous seat of government, The Hague, the Netherlands is a charming paradise of canals, rivers, lakes and picturesque towns and cities. With a name meaning ‘low-lying country’, due to its extremely flat terrain, the Netherlands is composed of a large amount of reclaimed land which has been drained of water by impressive water movement techniques dating back to medieval times, when this practice began. Windmills were often used to power the drainage, and the 18th-century Kinderdijk Elshout Windmills, today protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a great example of Dutch ingenuity. The fertile soil of these lowlands plays host to the rainbow fields of tulips, as seen in the phenomenal Keukenhof Gardens in the South Holland region, a symbol of the Netherlands. These flowers are an important foundation of the country’s export economy. The capital, Amsterdam, is a popular destination for weekend breaks for both those looking for culture in the cities museums, and also as a party hotspot owing to the hundreds of bars and cafes. The country is famously liberal, with progressive laws and a fairly open society. A holiday to the Netherlands will open your eyes to a fantastic, forward-thinking culture, which has retained its quaint charm across the centuries.
Historically a very successful trading country, thanks to its location on the North Sea coast, the Netherlands has always had an internationalist outlook and an open economy. The Dutch East India Company, formed in 1602 and the later West India Company, famously founded New York, or New Amsterdam as it was then declared, in 1625. The Dutch are also credited with discovering Australia in 1606, a testament to their seafaring heritage. The country itself was founded around 1579 when the Union of Utrecht was signed, although this period of history was characterised by many conflicts with Spanish rulers who had possession of the region at the time. It was during this century that Prince William of Orange became a champion of Dutch freedom as he led a revolt against the Spanish authority. In more recent history, the Netherlands suffered terribly during the Second World War, when it was invaded, looted and many of its inhabitants deported. Today though, the country is a world-leader in representative politics and a founding member of the European Union.
The Netherlands has a strong and unique culture and is famed for being an eco-friendly country; for example, cycling is an extremely popular form of transport and thanks to the flat terrain, almost all of the population goes about their day-to-day lives with the help of their bicycles. There are even cycle-only towns, such as Houten, where cars are shunned in favour of the healthier and greener bicycles. Amsterdam’s canal bridges are famously covered with locked bicycles and pedestrians crossing the roads are more wary of cyclists than car-drivers. If you are looking for a destination to discover on two wheels, a tour of the Netherlands is a perfect choice. The country also has a fantastic heritage of arts, sciences and philosophy, which flourished in the 17th-century with painters such as Rembrandt and later Van Gogh. Earlier Rennaissance artists such as Van Eyck and Bosch also hail from this small part of the world; some of the worlds favourite masterpieces were produced by the Dutch. A trip to the Netherlands is not complete without soaking up some of this artistic culture in the country’s rich variety of museums, the perfect activity on a cold winters day. One of the most famous is the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, home to a number of valued masterpieces by Dutch painters. A large proportion of the population live in the central and eastern part of the country, concentrated in the urban areas of Rotterdam, Amsterdam, the Hague, Utrecht and Leiden, making the Netherlands a country of city dwellers. In the cities, there is a fantastic cafe culture and nightlife and a care-free, friendly atmosphere.
Despite the love of outdoor activities such as cycling, the Netherlands has a large number of cloudy days per year and frequent rain. During the summer months, when the sun does shine, visitors can enjoy the sandy beaches of the North Sea coast and explore the stretching countryside, full of colourful flowers, interior lakes and charming cottages. Offering a mix of activities in both the cities and the countryside, a tour of the Netherlands, is suitable at any time of year, although the King’s Day celebrations, which take place in April every year, is an unmissable time to visit as the country unites in festivities dressed in bright orange clothing.